Invented back in the 1980s, Pai Gow Poker is another popular form of banked poker, giving players a chance to try their luck and skills against the casino.
If you happen to be familiar with Chinese Poker, you’ll quickly get a feel for this game as the rules of Pai Gow poker are quite similar.
The house edge of Pai Gow is about 2.8%, which is quite decent all things considered. More importantly, because of the way the game is played, the volatility is very low. Many hands will end up in a tie (push), which means you’re often able to play long sessions without making a serious dent to your poker bankroll.
Pai Gow Poker isn’t particularly demanding, and with a bit of practice and a basic understanding of what it takes to beat the dealer, you should do just fine.
That said, this article will teach you fundamental Pai Gow rules and offer some strategy advice as well to help you play the best way possible.
How To Play Pai Gow Poker – Basic Rules
Although it almost goes without saying, the goal of Pai Gow Poker is to beat the dealer, just like in Ultimate Texas Holdem or any other casino poker game for that matter. To do this, you’ll need to make two separate hands that are both stronger than the dealer’s two hands. Just stick with me, you will soon see what is going on.
The game is played with the standard deck of 52 cards with the addition of a Joker.
Joker is semi-wild in the Pai Gow game, as it can be used to complete any straights or flushes. In all other instances, the Joker is counted as an Ace.
One thing to check in the rules of a particular casino is whether the wheel (A 2 3 4 5) is counted as it is or as the second-highest straight. Some venues still count the wheel as the second-best straight (for whatever reason), and it’s obviously an important piece of information to have before you start.
A hand of Pai Gow Poker begins with all players posting their ante bet. After that, everyone (including the dealer) receives seven cards, face down. When you receive your cards, you’ll have a chance to look at them and will need to arrange them in two separate hands:
- One five-card hand combination
- One two-card hand
As mentioned, the best result you can achieve is for both of your hands to beat both of the dealer’s hands. Standard poker hands rankings are used to determine the winner, i.e., one pair beats a high-card hand, two pair beat any single pair, etc.
One very important rule in Pai Gow to keep in mind is that your top (two-card hand) must never be stronger than your bottom (five-card) hand.
For example, if you have a pair of 10s at the bottom, you can’t place a pair of Jacks at the top. If you do this, your hand is fouled, and you’ll forfeit your bet.
Pai Gow Poker Payouts
As far as the rules of Pai Gow Poker are concerned, all you need to know is described above. Once all players are done setting up their hands, the dealer will arrange their hand. After that, they’ll compare their hands to the players’ hands and pay the winners.
- If both of your hands beat the both of the dealer’s hands, you’ll be paid at 1:1 on your ante
- If you beat one hand but lose on the second one, the bet is pushed back (a tie)
- The dealer wins all ties, i.e., if you have the exact same hand, like a pair of Kings in your top hand, the dealer wins
It is important to note that most casinos charge a 5% commission on your winnings, which adds to the house edge. Some places have done away with this practice, which makes the game much better for the player. If there is no commission involved, the house edge is estimated to be just around 1.3%.
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Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker
Over the years, the game has evolved to include a number of variations. All of these have pretty much the same basic rules. However, some of them will also let you place side bets, which adds to the excitement and provides a possibility for some big wins.
When side bets are available, you’re basically betting that you’ll make a hand that’s at least three of a kind or better.
Side bets don’t have anything to do with your main wagers and are paid independently of the outcome of the hand. Here are common Pai Gow Poker payout tables: